It was Like Speaking to a Ghost.

The last time I saw the USS New Jersey was in 1968. This battleship was in the Tonkin Gulf, along with us, during the Tet Offensive. We used “red lights” to preserve our “night vision” on the signal bridge, and on a clear moonless night, after an hour or so in the dark, I could see like a hungry cat searching for an elusive mouse. If you’re looking closely, you can see a slight curvature of the earth on the horizon at around 10 miles and the protruding masthead light from another ship. The white “bow” and “stern” lights of this large ship were easily visible as soon as they appeared just above the horizon.

It was important to know “who” was in the area at that time, and we had a method of identifying every new “light” on the dark sea. I focused my search light and sent the Morse Code pro-sign equivalent to “halt, identify yourself, or be fired upon” and after a brief pause, they replied “This is the USS New Jersey — fire at will”. I turned to my shipmate and said “wow….I just told the New Jersey to identify herself or I was going to blow her out of the water”. I never forgot that “challenge” even tho it was 46 years ago.

I have many memories from that period of time, some of them not so good, but when I heard the New Jersey (NJ2BB) last weekend, and was finally able to work her again, (in civilian life) it was like speaking to a ghost for me.

Photo by Greg Hume-Wikipedia 

This weekend, I was also able to work several more ships. The most memorial to me was LST-325. I have a personal history with this ship; it was in our home town of Charleston WV last year. The previous year, I found this ship in Marietta Ohio and was able to use their ships radio to work a Coast Guard Museum radio station near Los Angeles California. A few weeks ago I worked one of the LST 325’s crew members (W8AU/M) who was driving along the interstate near Columbus Ohio. It was a long and enjoyable QSO.

Wikipedia Public Domain Image 

The Nuclear Ship Savanna is the first ship of it’s type I’ve worked. I had no idea some cargo ships were nuclear powered? This was a big surprise to me.

I also worked this Canadian warship on the Great Lakes.  

Photo by Rick Cordeiro- Wikipedia 

This was the warship Haida located near Ontario Canada. (a fantastic signal by the way).

I’ve changed my “radio” focus since getting both my DXCC and WAS awards. (QRP at five watts or less of power and indoor stealth wire antennas). I work an occasional DX station with my “new straight key” but get my most joy from  long conversations at a slow 15 wpm speed.

There are several hams that I enjoy talking with very much. I like the “Special Event Stations”, and will continue to work them, but I will be writing about friends and interesting places in the United States for awhile.

My “free time” has become very limited with my father approaching his 93rd birthday, and my five grand kids growing like billy goats. There’s just not enough hours in the day……

John Smithson, Jr., N8ZYA, is a regular contributor to and writes from West Virginia, USA. Contact him at [email protected].

5 Responses to “It was Like Speaking to a Ghost.”

  • Karl N7DMA:


    This year was my first time to participate in the Museum Ships event, and I had a blast!
    I worked the Indianapolis, Lexington, Iowa, Lucid (MSO), and SS Valley Camp. Great signals all, in spite of a pretty quiet 20 and 17 meters.

    I had to laugh at your recount of contacting the New Jersey! Those night vision devices were pretty cool. I’m an ex-SM myself, USS Cochrane DDG-21, from 1977-80, and the USS Leftwich, DD-984 from 1980 – 84. Sadly, the Cochrane was sold off as scrap, and the Leftwich was used for target practice. Equally sad was the demise of our rate 10 or more years ago. Had a lot of fun during my days in the Navy. Saw a lot of things I would have never had the chance to see otherwise. 3 Westpacs and a Southpac. Still love CW!



  • Ron AA2RR:

    The Battleship NJ is alive and well in the port of Camden, NJ. I was among the dozen or so operators in BB-62’s Radio Room for 2014 Museum Ships Weekend. We recorded 850 contacts in 43 states, 20 DXCC entities, and 30 other ships. I worked a quiet 15 meters on Sat AM. That included working a South Africa station and the SS Valley Camp. It was a great weekend and can’t wait until 2015 Museum Ships Weekend. When you’re in the Philadelphia, PA area, please come visit the Battleship NJ. 73.

  • John N8ZYA:

    Thanks guys….those memories are still with me about the USS Corry (DD-817)
    BTW/ The ship was sold to the Greek Navy and is now reef material somewhere in that vicinity.

    Yes…I’d love to see the New Jersey again. I could actually “see” the 16″ shells and hear them “whistle” as they passed over the bow of the Corry. It’s something you never really forget.

  • David W4EZZ:

    Interesting stories of times gone by, enjoyed it.

  • Richard KWøU:

    Nice stories guys. I never was in the service but naval ships have always fascinated me and its an honor to work them. (Incidentally, I believe the Savanna was the only nuclear-powered civilian ship ever built.) Some years ago I got to visit KH6BB, the USS Missouri, at Pearl Harbor. When I mentioned having a QSL from the ship the guide got excited and gave me a special tour deep into the vessel, including of course the radio room. Sometimes this hobby really pays off.

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